Let’s Assume Microsoft Acquires Powerset

May 10, 2008

I read Dan Farber’s most intriguing post “Is Microsoft Stalking Powerset’s Search Technology?”

I have Saturday chores to do, and I was sweeping the garage with the Microsoft-Powerset tie up buzzing in my head. I dropped the broom and grabbed by notebook for this post. Please, navigate to the News.com site and snag this “Outside the Lines”, May 10, 2008, information.

Mr. Farber writes:

Powerset raises the bar on search based on a preview that I had of the service last month. Powerset differs from the Google in that it extracts and indexes concepts, relationships, and meaning, rather than keywords. It’s able to create connections and pivot in some cases in ways that elude Google’s proficient engine, which favors more of a statistical approach

I saw an interesting demonstration of the Powerset technology at the BearStearns’ (oh, the late, lamentable BearStearns’) Internet Conference a year or two ago. I also received a link that allowed me to run some test queries on the system. Based on technology from Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), Powerset delivers some of the functionality I wrote about in my description of Cluuz.com here.

Quite a few companies are processing content, identifying relationships, and trying to move beyond key word search. I’m not going to revisit these points. My broom awaits, and I want to offer these ideas for comment:

  1. Assume the Microsoft buys Powerset. Now the giant from Redmond has to figure out what to do with its various Live.com search functionality, the Fast Search & Transfer Web search (which you can see here as AllTheWeb.com, branded as a Yahoo service but delivered using Fast Search & Transfer’s system), and the hybrid solution from Powerset (home-grown plus the third-party code from Xerox PARC).
  2. Powerset has undergone a lengthy gestation. I think the service is interesting, but Hakia, which beat Powerset to market, has a niche focus in health care and a growing appetite for enterprise deals. If I had to pick between Hakia and Powerset, I think I would lean toward the Hakia system for two reasons: [a] most, if not all of the code, is the product of the Hakia team, so there’s no pesky third-party involved; and [b] the company, despite its hunger for capital, has pushed products out the door, not just demonstrated prototypes.
  3. Microsoft has to find a way to slow Googzilla, and I am not certain that buying search technologies is a way to throw some body punches at the mathematicians in Mountain View, California. For example, Google continues to build out a 21st-century version of the “pre-break up” AT&T infrastructure without much push back from anyone. Even IBM has a bad case of Google love. AT&T and Verizon along with Wall Street see Google as a one-trick pony, albeit a big, big pony. Loading up on search wizards is a good thing. Trying to integrate different search technologies into the existing Microsoft platform may be less good.

Okay, now I have to return to my garage clean up duty. A happy quack from the Beyond Search goose to Mr. Farber for his interesting article and the respite he gave my tired wings.

Stephen Arnold, May 10, 2008


4 Responses to “Let’s Assume Microsoft Acquires Powerset”

  1. Daniel Tunkelang on May 10th, 2008 8:09 pm

    As I’ve blogged at The Noisy Channel, I’m also more convinced by Hakia than by Powerset. But I’m still highly skeptical of natural language processing as the holy grail of search. Despite many efforts to do so, no one has demonstrated significant value in this space.

  2. Stephen E. Arnold on May 10th, 2008 9:30 pm

    I agree. NLP allows a user, according to some vendors, to write a question in “normal” English. I see users typing 2.5 words or picking from a list of hot links. Fancy linguistic / semantic technologies can contribute but without having the user write a well-formed question.
    Stephen Arnold, May 10, 2008

  3. Microsoft Powerset: Is There a Role for Amazon? : Beyond Search on June 27th, 2008 8:41 am

    […] On May 10, 2008, I offered some thoughts about Microsoft’s alleged interest in Powerset. You can find this bit of goose quacking here. […]

  4. Roma on March 6th, 2009 11:49 am

    Well since now powerset is part of microsoft… so what gonna happen to powerset or live.com.


    Whatever it may be there are another semantic engines are in making like Hakia.com. Now my hope lies on this one as i am fearing for the future of powerset, if anyone tries it to integrate with live.com

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